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PUTC Interview with Brian Smith, Toyota Corporate Truck Operations Manager
By: Mike Levine Posted: 01-08-07 06:30 ET
© 2007 PickupTruck.com

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PickupTruck.com interviewed Brian Smith, Toyota Motor Sales Corporate Manager for Truck Operations, after the introduction of the Tundra CrewMax.

PickupTruck.com: Brian, thanks for taking time to speak with PickupTruck.com.

Toyota has stated that it’s aiming for sales of 200,000 Tundras. What makes you confident that you’re going to get there, and how long do you think it’s going to take to hit this target?

Brian Smith: We’re very confident that we’ll reach that sales target by the end of this calendar year. The (Tundra) was designed, really designed, for the customers needs. So, you say, what gives us that feeling? Well, when we went out and did all the research over the last many years, talking to ranchers, logging camps, construction crews, asking them what they need in a pickup truck, we feel we’re offering it now in the Tundra. Of course, it’s a big segment, as you know. 2 to 2.3 million (full size pickups) were sold last year, and 200,000 is a very realistic target for Toyota with a product this capable.

PUTC: With this new Tundra being a truly full size truck, did Toyota learn anything from the launch of the Nissan Titan - the first full size import to compete with the American pickups?

Smith: I wouldn’t say we studied it a lot. Obviously (Nissan) chose certain ways to launch the Titan truck a few years back and I’m sure there are things to be learned.

What (Toyota) is after with this launch is a very full product line. For example, our 5.7-liter engine actually wasn’t going to go into the first trucks being built. They start now, this month, so we decided to launch this truck in early February so we’d have the opportunity to have the full product line available – with the exception of the CrewMax which is about 30 days away.

And, what we want to make sure we do is offer not only a broad product line at start up, but we also want to make sure we have good availability for the dealers. As you well know, when you drive on a competitor's lot they have lots of trucks to choose from. That’s something the customer expects – to have lots of choice. We've specifically built up inventory to make sure our dealers have many different Tundras to look at when the go to buy.

PUTC: What about Toyota Tacoma owners? Will you be able to move them into the Tundra as their needs change, instead of switching to a different full size pickup?

Smith: You know, the Tacoma, when we launched it two years ago, is a larger truck than our previous compact pickups that it replaced. So its already filling a great niche there for Toyota in terms of providing a slightly more compact truck (than Tundra) with a lot of capability, unlike some of our earlier, small trucks.

So we don’t see a ton of cross shop between Tacoma buyers and Tundra. They are very different buyers. But we do have almost one million unit current Tundra owners with trucks in operation now. So that’s a real healthy universe to draw from as our current Tundra owners start to become ready to trade in their product. We certainly hope and expect that they’ll give the new Tundra careful consideration. It takes all the strengths of our current Tundra and adds a lot more capability. And, it still has the Toyota quality that we’re known for.

PUTC: The current Tacoma has had such a strong launch, and it seems to be going strong, continuing to gain market share. Do you think you’re going to start to run into the same issues that the other full size manufacturers have hit - that you start to cross a price point where midsize truck buyers decide to jump directly into a full size pickup instead of buying the smaller truck?

Smith: The Tacoma, which I happen to be driving right now, is very maneuverable. It’s easy to get in and out of parking spaces, unlike most full size pickups. And, it can fit in most garages. There’s a lot of reasons why people decide they want to buy a compact pickup. So, I think we’ll have very strong consideration, both on our compact truck side with Tacoma and now in the full size side with Tundra. Not as much overlap as you might think. In any given year, our data tells us between ten and fifteen percent of Tacoma buyers might cross shop with full size but that’s not as much as a lot of people might think. People want a compact product.

PUTC: Do you think there’s a coastal phenomenon, that buyers would prefer a midsize truck versus the middle of the country where buyers would prefer full size if the cost is similar? Kind of a blue state / red state thing. Or do you see it as nationwide?

Smith: No, I see it as pretty broad across the country. I think the attributes that make a compact pickup appealing to people are pretty universal.

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